Politicians not only use anti-Islam rhetoric to manipulate votes, but also to distract the public from serious challenges.
Washington D.C – French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent hostile anti-Islam statements have exposed the crisis of values and identity that France, like many Western democracies, has experienced for many years. These countries no longer have any sound long-term strategies to maintain their population’s standard of living and ensure equality for all.
French president’s statement that Islam is in crisis came to desperately defend the right of the press to insult Prophet Muhammad in the name of freedom of expression. Meanwhile, his government has criminalized criticism of Jews and anti-Zionism. The discrepancy blatantly demonstrates double standards and clear prejudice against Islam and Muslims.
Western democracy is exacerbating inequalities
For decades the West has promoted the merits of its democratic system and its role in granting citizens decent living conditions and opportunities for social, economic, and intellectual advancement. However, the savage capitalism that sustains this democratic system has exacerbated social disparities between the rich and both the middle class and the underprivileged.
The middle class has witnessed major rifts, with a large number of formerly middle-income people joining the ranks of the low-income classes. They recognize that the political class’ electoral promises do not better circumstances in reality, but rather worsen them.
Instead of contributing to improving living conditions for the poor and middle classes and adopting policies that ensure a fair distribution of wealth, the political elite has pursued policies that have exacerbated inequalities.
Democracy is no longer a system through which the people govern themselves. Rather, it is a system the ruling class of politicians, economists, and media exploit to take advantage of the naivety and ignorance of the populace and to play on their emotions, fears, and concerns in order to remain in power.
Politicians are not presenting electoral programs based on realistic strategies to improve the living standards of the population and enable them to face the contingencies of the present and the future. Instead, the ruling elite takes twisted approaches to divert the focus of public opinion away from their failure to make good on their electoral promises.
Controlling minds by dramatizing Islam as a danger
The aim of this ongoing campaign against Islam is not to give the French citizen any leeway to hold the political and economic class accountable for a decline in the per capita income of millions of French people, high unemployment, rampant precocity, poverty, and worsening public services, in addition to the absence of prospects for youth.
French citizens believe that they live in a democratic system that guarantees their rights and that they play a role in electing public officials. As a matter of fact, the ruling class no longer regards them as citizens. Rather, they see them as consumers who occasionally participate in presidential or legislative elections, believing they have a say their country’s destiny.
What many fail to realize is that the systematic brainwashing and manipulation of the French, like other Western societies, makes them unable to differentiate truth from falsehood and to build their positions or opinions on the basis of objective and impartial information. The French public opinion has become a puppet in the hands of the ruling elite that controls the citizen’s political orientations, emotions, and perceptions through controlling the media.
France defends a skewed freedom of the press
Freedom of the press and freedom of expression are theoretically the bedrock of the French democratic system. However, the fact that 10 wealthy French individuals control 90% of the French media raises many questions about the independence of the press and pluralism, one of the pillars of any democratic system.
With absolute control of the economic, political, and the media spheres in the hands of the wealthy, the freedom of the press, the respect for different opinions, and pluralism have become nothing but slogans. Controlling people’s minds and the way they think and consume has become the main goal of the ruling class.
They do not seek to build a pluralistic society founded on respect for each other’s political and religious persuasions. They seek rather to build a society that does not accept differences and thinks and consumes in the same way. Any individual or group that deviates from this pattern, defined by the ruling class, is frowned upon and regarded as a fifth column and a threat to the social cohesion and future of the country.
This is one of the reasons why the vicious and systematic campaign against Islam and the Muslim minority in France is gaining such traction.
Drawing from the historical view that prevails in Western societies towards other cultures, particularly towards Islam, and the existence of a fertile cultural ground ready to espouse anti-Islamic rhetoric, this narrative has become the common denominator of the vast majority of political parties in Western societies, including France.
What has facilitated these parties’ task is the increasing number of Muslims living in Western countries. Because of the complicity of the press, France deals with any crime committed by someone associated with Islam in a way that contributes to the dissemination of fear among the public. This approach also promotes their negative stereotypes of Islam, which they have inherited through mainstream discourse and textbooks.
Any big or small event that occurs in the Muslim minority in France becomes a matter of intense national debate in which anyone can express their opinions, whether or not they have a deep knowledge of causes and implications. France’s politicians and media have become so obsessed with Islam that the issue of the veil (hijab) and the status of women has for years become ubiquitous in the national debate.
Islam and the Muslim minority in France, like other Western societies, have become the bogeyman the ruling class uses to scare public opinion, and draw the people’s attention to the alleged danger that Islam poses to their way of life and to the secular system.
Anti-Islam is a winning card to boost politicians’ popularity
The use of Islam in French politics is by no means a new phenomenon, but a norm that has established itself with a vengeance over the past two decades. Anti-Islamic rhetoric played a key role in the popularity of Nicolas Sarkozy when he was interior minister and helped him clear his path towards the presidency.
Sarkozy’s popularity rose in 2003 when he participated in a live discussion on France 2 with Swiss researcher and intellectual Tarek Ramadan about the place of Islam and the hijab in French society. The French press at the time praised Sarkozy’s toughness when he asked Ramadan not to use what he called double speech, and asked him to urge the Muslim minority to make efforts to integrate into French society and to call on women not to wear the hijab.
His popularity rose further when he said in October 2005 that he would clean up suburban ghettos by the Muslim minority with a “Karcher.”
Thanks to the complicity of the media, his tough rhetoric played a central role in convincing French voters that Sarkozy was the right leader for the country. While the anti-Islamic debate was raging, the friendly media overlooked his political agenda. The media also failed to shed light on the devastating impact of his electoral program on middle class and low-income people.
Little air time was devoted to Sarkozy’s plan to lower taxes of the wealthy, to dismantle the labor law, to reduce the education budget, to reduce the number of state employees, to raise the defense budget, to strengthen the powers of the president at the expense of the powers of Parliament and the prime minister, and other policies that ultimately worsened the socio-economic status of millions of French people.
Islamophobic rhetoric as a distraction
Macron’s rhetoric is a reminder that the adoption of an anti-Islamic narrative is no longer reserved for the right and the extreme right. It has also permeated the Socialist Party, which has contributed to a portrayal of Islam as a danger to the French Republic, cementing the claim that Muslims are unwilling to smoothly integrate into French society and embrace its secular values.
After the January 2015 attacks on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper, which killed 17 people, then-Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that France was suffering from an ethnic and social “apartheid” regime because of Islam and the spread of extremist ideology among some of the Muslim minority.
Former French President Francois Hollande said that France has a problem with Islam because of its tendencies to “assert itself as a religion on the Republic.” He also stressed that there was a large number of immigrants who came to France and did not learn French, something to which the country should put an end.
The heinous crime against French teacher Samuel Paty last month has helped recenter the political debate in France around the alleged threat that Islam and the Muslim minority pose to France’s cohesion and social peace. As expected, the ruling class and the media focused the debate on the suspect’s religion. In their minds, nothing but Islam can prompt a person to commit such an act.
According to this narrative, no Muslim can suffer from psychological, social, or emotional problems that could lead them to despair and to commit heinous crimes against innocent people. If a Muslim commits any such crime, he can only be an extremist and the reason for this can only be his religion.
By framing the debate this way, the French government has deviated French public opinion from its utter failure to effectively tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and to take action to mitigate the economic and social impact of the outbreak on millions of middle-class and low-income French. Instead of finding itself subject to criticism and calls for accountability, the French government has mobilized all its resources to put terrorism and Islamic extremism at the center of public debate.
The government also used the murder of the French teacher to remind the public opinion that the threat to their future and the future of the next generations is not the corruption and greed of the ruling elite, but the “Islamic extremism” and “separatism” of the Muslim minority.
No end in sight for Islamophobia in France
What observers can draw from the systematic media campaign against Islam and Muslim minorities in France and other Western countries is that despite the economic, technological, and cultural development Western societies have achieved over the past two centuries, they have made little progress in their view of the other, still less in their willingness to coexist with other cultures as equals and the basis of mutual respect.
On the contrary, the West’s economic and technological superiority has further cemented its century-old complex of superiority over the other, especially over the Muslims. The prevailing trend in the West is to try to impose its lifestyle and worldviews on Muslim minorities rather than accept their differences and live with them in harmony, respect, and fraternity.
Islam and the alleged threat Muslims pose to Western societies will continue to be the winning card and bogeyman that the Western intelligentsia will use to deviate the attention of the masses from their daily problems and the problems of their children and grandchildren, enabling them to stay in power. There is no better way to achieve that goal than to manipulate the public opinion, exploit its fear, and mobilize it to fend off “Islamism separatism,” a new bogus concept coined by the French president.
Whatever the Muslim minority in France does to integrate into the French society and to demonstrate its attachment to the principles of the French Republic, the French intelligentsia will not regard Islam and Muslims as integral parts of their society. The debate about Islam that has raged for years is a sobering reminder that Muslims will be looked at as the fifth column that constitutes a threat to France’s future, social cohesion, as well as the preservation of its cultural identity and historical character.
Samir Bennis is the co-founder of Morocco World News. You can follow him on Twitter @SamirBennis.